Inverted Gear Blog

How to Eliminate Politics: Focus on Doing Good

As much as we try to ignore it, tribalism is alive and well in jiu-jitsu. Though it might be fading, there are still many instructors who demand an uncomfortable level of loyalty from students and go to great lengths to discourage or prevent their students from training with people not in their association.

There was a pretty high-profile case of this recently where one black belt announced he was no longer honoring the black belt of one of his students. We might not know exactly what happened there, but I do know this: I frequently encounter jiu-jiteiros who are outright barred from training at other schools or with other grapplers or who are quietly shunned as an unspoken punishment if they consort with the enemy.

For my students, they are welcome to train where ever they please, and I have no problem with them visiting the mats of an open and positive gym that values integrity and respect.

For the sport to continue to grow, even in places where business competition might be high or where rivalries persist, I believe that we need to find more reasons to come together so that we can overwhelm the reasons that keep us apart. In that spirit, I want to encourage all of my readers here to consider hosting and supporting charity grappling events. My thinking is that taking profit off the table—meaning a competitor won't be making money off of your students—can help us to break down barriers in our community. 

Here are some ways you can invite your local jiu-jitsu community to join you in doing good:

  • Host a roll-a-thon. These are basically open mats set to endurance mode. The mat fee goes to the charity of choice (Tap Cancer Out events of this style are popular) and many grapplers recruit sponsors to chip in. The more a sponsor contributes, the longer they stay on the mat in the name of a good cause.

  • Host a charity seminar. If you are lucky enough to have an instructor in your network who is willing to participate, you can swap out a seminar fee for a charitable donation. Imagine instead of collecting cash you pile up food and clothing for a local homeless shelter or perhaps collect toys and blankets for dogs in need. For example, Nelson Puentes is helping us run one of these in Pittsburgh in April.

  • Host or attend a charity tournament. Running one of these is much more work than a roll-a-thon or a seminar, but the experience can be pretty spectacular. Charity tournaments, especially when they are run well, frame the competitive aspects of the event in a way that has grapplers rolling hard but not forgetting the cause they are supporting. If you can't host one, consider volunteering at one or encouraging your teammates to go.

  • Buy gear that supports a cause. To be clear here, we sell a lot of products that support charities (like earthquake victims in Mexico, cancer research and services, and youth programs in Philadelphia), but this isn't meant to be an ad for Inverted Gear stuff. You could make your next run of gym t-shirts part of a charity fundraising company or you can support other brands who also donate proceeds to charity.

The jiu-jitsu world may be rife with drama and have its share of bad eggs, but the sport also has an amazing potential to be a force for good. We just need good people to wield that force more often.

If you want to do a charity event at your gym but aren't sure where to start, feel free to reach out to us!

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Let 'Em Feel

“Cheer up.”

“It’s okay.”

“It could be worse.”

“Don’t feel bad.”

Have you ever heard any of the above after you lost a match, had trouble nailing a technique sequence, or got injured? I have no doubt that the person who said it to you was trying to be supportive, and I have certainly said similar things to others, but more recently I have tried to become more precise with my language and to recognize the message I am actually sending when I say certain things.

Possibly as a result of my life coach training and the courses I am taking toward a masters’ degree in mental health counseling, I have become increasingly deliberate about not telling anyone what to do; in both coaching and mental health counseling, the professional’s role is not to pass judgment or tell others what to do, but rather to listen and help clients tap into what they feel will be best for their lives. And as jiu-jitsu instructors and practitioners, sometimes this may mean not trying to talk a teammate or a student out of a funk. Of course, this is not true of technical coaching, and if you have a whiner on your hands, a “Snap out of it” might be warranted. However, if your student or teammate has a real concern to process, my personal bias is that a good way to be supportive is to let them feel the feelings.

So what to do if you want to comfort someone or help them move past a bad patch without discounting their feelings or putting them on the defensive? Here are some thoughts:

Validate: When someone tells you they are feeling bad, chances are they were feeling vulnerable when they did so. Revealing our soft meaty insides is risky. It means we must trust that the person on the receiving end will be receptive rather than dismissive. And saying, “Don’t feel bad” may seem supportive to you, because you are saying you want the person to feel better than they do, but the fact is that they don’t. So, telling them to stop feeling bad is like telling them they are wrong to feel bad, which means that now, in addition to feeling bad, they feel bad for feeling bad.

Instead of giving commands, consider validating the person’s feeling and then asking if the person would like to share more. For instance: “That’s a drag. I can see why you would feel that way. Do you want to talk about it?”

Investigate: A friend of mine has a great strategy for being an effective support system for others. When someone who is feeling bad comes to her, she listens. Then she asks, “What would you like from me?” I remember the first time she asked me this I was brought up a little short, and I did not know. She continued, “Well, do you want my opinion, or do you want me to listen carefully, or do you want me to tell you I agree with everything you say?” At first, I thought she was being snarky, but it was a genuine question. I quickly realized it was a brilliant way to be held accountable for what I needed and to increase the likelihood that the person I was turning to could provide it for me. Sometimes I do want advice, but sometimes I just want to vent, and if the other person feels the need to fix things, we could end up on different wavelengths, mine unsure of what I want but sure I did not get it, the other person’s well-meaning but misguided.

Commiserate: It may be appropriate to tell the person that they are not alone in feeling the way they do. This does not mean one-upsmanship (“Oh yeah? You think YOU’RE feeling bad? Well wait till I tell you how lousy MY day has been!”) or implying that the person should stop being a delicate flower (“Yeah, everyone feels that way. It sucks for them too.”). It could mean acknowledging that frustration, sadness, fear, and disappointment are part of life, and that the person is not alone in feeling this way. (“This just doesn’t ever feel good, does it?”)

Advocate: I am a big believer in next steps. Kind words and supportive energy goes a long way. But eventually the person is going to have to go home, deal with other people, or otherwise move on from the supportive environment we have, we hope, created for them. At this point, I may ask the person, “What could you do right now that would feel helpful?” Again, the answer could be anything from “Kick rocks” to “Sulk” to “Think about what I did wrong and think about how to fix it” to “Yell at a cloud.” Regardless of what it is—within reason, of course—support it. You do not have to do it yourself, but you can advocate for the other person to do it if they think it will help them.

Feeling bad is a fact of life. We may not be able to avoid it or to help others do so, but we can work at recognizing what we need and working to give others what they need in order to be able to move on.

How do you support your students and teammates when they are having a hard time? Post your experiences to comments.

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10,000 Hours is Not a Magic Number

By now you must have heard the "10,000 Hour Rule," the popular belief that mastery in anything is simply a matter of racking up that many hours of practice. That idea -- that any of us could get good at whatever we want --is so appealing, and that 10,000 number is just so perfectly round, it must be true, right?

Let's track down where this 10,000 hour idea comes from and what it really means.

Ten thousand hours enters pop culture with the publication of Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success, which profiles successful people like the Beatles, Bill Gates, and theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. Gladwell pulls 10,000 hours from the work of researcher Anders Ericsson, boldly stating that "ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness."

Let's look at who Ericsson is and what his research shows. Ericsson studies how people acquire skills and expertise in different fields. He studied 40 violin virtuosos in Germany, asking them how much they practiced by the age of 20. Answers ranged from 3,500 hours up to 12,000 hours, with 10,000 or so being the average. That's how we get the number.

So what does a study of a small group of musicians tell us about the path to mastery in BJJ or any other endeavor? Not too much. We already know it takes a long time to get good at a complex activity. Ericsson has since published his own book Peak, which refutes some claims Gladwell made by misinterpreting his research. 

It is also important to note that Ericsson has a different definition for "deliberate practice" than most of us. Not all forms of practice count.

A paper from the Michigan State University titled "Deliberate practice: Is that all it takes to become an expert?" says this about Ericsson and his definition of deliberate practice:

Ericsson et al. defined deliberate practice as engagement in highly structured activities that are created specifically to improve performance in a domain through immediate feedback, that require a high level of concentration, and that are not inherently enjoyable. Ericsson et al. distinguished deliberate practice from two other forms of domain-specific experience–work and play–as follows:
Work includes public performance, competitions, services rendered for pay, and other activities directly motivated by external rewards. Play includes activities that have no explicit goal and that are inherently enjoyable. Deliberate practice includes activities that have been specially designed to improve the current level of performance.

Focusing solely on deliberate practice neglects other important factors like genetics, psychology, and socio-economic circumstances. The book The Sports Gene by David Epstein takes a more well-rounded look at how all of these factors interact.

In 2012, I reviewed The Talent Code, a book in the same vein as Outliers (it quotes the "10,000 Hour Rule"). My summary of it is still my favorite way to get to the core of what it takes to get good at anything:

“Get someone passionate about something and make them practice for years under an experienced coach and they’ll get good (unless they don’t.)”

Here’s a quick list of “take away lessons” you can get from reading any of these books on talent:

  • The elite got that way through many thousands of hours of diligent practice.
  • High repetition is necessary to gain competency in a skill.
  • You learn the most by pushing yourself to the edge of your ability and paying attention to your mistakes so you can fix them.
  • The learning process is often frustrating and you can’t always tell when you’re improving until you’re put to the test later.
  • A good curriculum “chunks” skills together so they are easier to learn, and the chunks get bigger as the student becomes able to handle the earlier ones.
  • Students should spend a lot of time watching masters practice and perform.
  • Coaches and teachers value hard work and persistence over “natural genius.”
  • A good coach establishes an emotional connection with his students so he knows when to be nice and when to push hard.
  • You can focus on specific skills by doing drills that isolate it for repeated trial-and-error.
  • Those who achieve greatness often started with a humble instructor who fostered a love for the subject.
  • Those who see themselves doing an activity for a long time find more time to practice (and therefore get better) than those who only set short term goals.
  • Kids who feel talent can be gained through hard work have better problem-solving skills and more determination than kids who believe their intelligence or skill is inherited and unchangeable.
  • “Having fun” isn’t the primary goal of people who want to get good, though they find what they do pleasurable on some level (or at least necessary) and push through all the difficulties and challenges.
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Fuerza Mexico - Support Mexican Earthquake Relief

Last year my friend Brad Wolfson invited me to take part in a camp he organized in the south of Mexico, a place called Puerto Escondido in the state of Oaxaca. I jumped on the chance because I have always wanted to visit Mexico. I grew up watching movies from the golden era of Mexican cinema, like the Cantinflas and El Santo movies, which are some of my favorites. Combined with my love for tacos and the beach, this camp was a dream come true. As expected, the camp was great. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Mexico. The training was great and the food was amazing.

During the camp, I got to meet lots of people from the local BJJ community in Puerto, as well as a crew from the state capital a few hours away and few people from Mexico City. BJJ has found place a place in Mexican culture and it is thriving. Luchadores, the iconic masked wrestlers, have been Mexican heroes for years, so while we may not go flying through the air, learning joint locks and sleeper holds has an appeal for those of us that grew up watching lucha libre.

Unfortunately, a few months after the camp, Oaxaca was hit by a giant earthquake, then just a few weeks later Mexico city was hit by another major tremor. These were some of the strongest earthquakes in Mexican history. Structural damage was extensive, thousands of people were injured, and hundreds were killed.

Our friends in the US quickly mobilized and we set up a seminar to donate the proceeds to the reconstruction efforts. Shortly after the fundraiser, we made the plans for the Fuerza Mexico rashguard in the hope of continuing to support the recovery efforts. All proceeds go to the Mexico Earthquake Relief Fund.

We chose a luchador to symbolize the word fuerza which means strength -- both physical strength and and the strength to overcome. The pose was inspired by old luchador movie posters. We hope our humble efforts to play homage to Mexico's culture can help the recovery of our friends south of the border.

Buy a Fuerza Mexico rashguard now and support Mexican earthquake relief efforts.

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The Greatest Jiu-Jiteiros You’ve Never Heard Of

Jiu-jitsu is like most sports in that that the star competitors—the incredible athletes pushing the boundaries of technique and performance—receive the spotlight. I believe that these charismatic competitors are an important part of jiu-jitsu’s evolution and growth, but I would argue that the people having the greatest impact are mostly invisible.

They work behind the scenes to push the sport forward. You might not know who they are or what they do, but you have likely benefited from their passion and generosity.

I am going to attempt to give credit to some of these folks whom I know, but this list will be woefully incomplete. The people I mention here are but a fraction of the jiu-jiteiros plying their trade diligently beyond the spotlight, and they just happen to have entered my orbit for me to meet and get to know them.

If someone is missing from this list, please, add them in the comments!

Here are some of the unsung heroes in our sport:

Charles Pearson of Lockflow

Known as CombatChaz to forum goers, Pearson’s Lockflow was one of the original technique database and forum sites on the web. Pre-YouTube, Lockflow sought out step by step pictures of techniques and organized everything from grappling events to for-fun MMA betting leagues. Lockflow is sadly no more, but Pearson continues to teach and promote MMA out of Washington. For my part, I wouldn’t have a writing career if it weren’t for Pearson, and he also gave many other grapplers a platform to share their perspective. A certain leglock artist named Reilly Bodycomb, for example, got a nice early boost from the Lockflow community.

Stephan Kesting of Grapple Arts 

Kesting is one of the original gangsters of internet jiu-jitsu, and thankfully he is still diligently producing content and marketing his products. His consistency means that you have probably heard of him, but I would still argue that he doesn’t get enough credit for his contributions to the art. Kesting has given a wealth of knowledge away for free, and he is also quick to support other movers and shakers in the sport even if there is little to no benefit in it for him.

Paul Moran of Open Mat Radio 

A post shared by Paul Moran (@paulopenmatradio) on

In addition to his podcast, Moran tirelessly works to connect jiu-jitsu leaders and facilitate collaborations. Based in Las Vegas, Moran has unique access to local and visiting grapplers and is quick to suggest project ideas or to spend the better part of his week making an opportunity open up for you—for no pay or any visible benefit to him beyond his liking to help. Even during a long battle with cancer, which Moran has been candid about, he continues to help and contribute.

Mike Calimbas of Mike Calimbas Photography

Good training with our friends from Costa Rica. #puravida #porradaworldwide

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Calimbas flies more miles than a Canadian goose. Behind the camera lens, Calimbas chronicles a wide range of jiu-jitsu events and their participants. His incredibly prolific jiu-jitsu photography means that the jiu-jitsu community gets to see a lot of activity in the sport that might otherwise have never been photographed. Even with the massive volume of work Calimbas puts into photography, he uses the jiu-jitsu network he’s built to help other people in the sport launch, promote, or grow jiu-jitsu businesses by making introductions and offering his own insights.

Val Worthington of Groundswell Grappling Concepts

Though she has competitive accolades, the bulk of Worthington’s role in the sport has been in private settings, either in seminars or in one-on-one conversations. Worthington, alongside her business partners at Groundswell, has helped to spark and drive important but difficult conversations about how jiu-jiteiros interact with each other. What started as an outlet for jiu-jitsu women—women’s only camps and events—has grown into an all-encompassing push for our sport to think more critically about culture and the parts we as individuals play in it.

Tomas “Papo” Sone of Jiu Jitsu de la Costa

I met Papo in Hilo, Hawaii, and I include him in this list because he represents what hundreds of jiu-jitsu instructors are doing around the world this very moment. Papo runs a school in the Dominican Republic, and many of his students come from incredibly poor backgrounds. Papo sees jiu-jitsu as his way to give back and to help his community come together. When students can’t pay for training with money, they often trade, giving him food they’ve grown or offering to help around the gym in exchange for training. This selflessness, this ability to accept a less extravagant lifestyle for his own family because it means helping others to have better lives, is a powerful example of what plays out in communities across the globe.

Mike Velez of Jiu-Jitsu Magazine

Jiu-jitsu journalism in terms of volume is at an all-time high. We have ready access to blogs and news sites, but the print side of journalism—the side that takes considerable planning and expense to execute month after month—has been in decline. As other publications close-up shop, however, Jiu-Jitsu Magazine is still finding relevance and serving jiu-jitsu readers. When he’s not at the helm as Editor-in-Chief, Velez is doing what many people in this list do: Sharing the knowledge he has with others in the sport to help and support creative projects so that the sport can continue to grow and improve.

Kevin Howell of the Jiu-Jitsu League 

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If you’re thinking to yourself that this name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you have at least one of Howell’s books on your shelves. Saulo Ribeiro’s Jiu-Jitsu University is the most recommended jiu-jitsu instructional ever because of its depth, quality, and accessibility. Ribeiro’s influence is an important piece of the puzzle, but many readers underestimate just how big of a contribution an author like Howell can make to a book even if his name isn’t the largest on the cover. Howell would probably never make this claim himself, but for my part, I can say confidently that one of the most influential instructionals in our sport would never have helped so many students if it wasn’t for Howell.

Again, I fully recognize this list is incomplete. And someone’s lack of inclusion is in no way a suggestion that their contributions to the sport are less important than anyone I have mentioned here. Instead, I hope that this makes you think more about the people you know who are doing wonderful things for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu so that you can bring more attention to them and their contributions.

And feel free to share those names here!

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